For countries as culturally and physically linked as Canada and the United States, seeing the differences between them can be pretty eye-opening. They’re not always big, but they are there.

This occurred to me during my March trip to Toronto to attend CMX, the biennial plumbing and HVAC show sponsored by the Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada.

Living close to the U.S.-Canadian border, I have visited Canada as well as the CMX trade show many times. So things such as the metric system (which is used for most, but not all things), a lower drinking age, and the popular “loonie” dollar coin are not new to me.

No, this time I was surprised by a few general impressions of Canadian big-city society as well as the strength of the country’s economy.

First off, it seems a lot of Canadians like to jaywalk. Beyond just simply crossing against the light, Toronto pedestrians will cross wherever it’s convenient. If a restaurant is in the middle of the block on the other side of the street, that’s where they’ll cross. No one, not drivers or even municipal police, seem to mind. 

Pricey stuff

And with the U.S. and Canadian dollars at par - and when I was in Toronto, the Canadian loonie was worth a cent or two more than the greenback - Toronto is a very expensive city. It didn’t appear to be affecting the Canadian economy or the CMX show, as both appeared to be bustling. Aisles were busy at the convention center March 22-24, and many of the Canadian HVAC and sheet metal company representatives I spoke to said business was brisk.

Some of the company officials did say the weak U.S. dollar had eliminated much of their American business, but booming provinces such as oil sand-rich Alberta were more than making up for it.

And unlike a number of U.S. cities these days, I saw a lot of cranes in the air and construction going on in downtown Toronto.

Like it's 2005

Watching a Toronto TV news broadcast in my hotel room, a story on the greater Toronto real estate market said agents were stressing to homeowners that this may be the best time ever to sell. Relatively modest Craftsman-style homes in second-tier Toronto neighborhoods near subway lines are fetching prices in the mid-six figures. Contrast that with Florida, Nevada or Michigan, where real estate values have dropped to levels not seen since the mid-1990s or early 2000s.

Hopefully, we’ll start seeing some of those positive signs in the U.S. construction industry soon, and to our Canadian readers: Congratulations. Hope your company is doing well in this economy.

Speaking of the economy, I ran across an editorial by former Snips editor and publisher Ed Bas while looking up old articles for our Turning Back the Pages section. Bas was quoting some of the authors of then-recent business books such as Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market and Dow 100,000: Fact or Fiction, and another one that heralded a “20-year boom” in the economy.

So much for that.

To his credit, my old boss Ed was not convinced the good times wouldn’t end: “My only gripe: Recessions, like wars, are unpredictable,” he wrote. “No one wants one, yet they seem to happen with alarming regularity. And no one ever seems to see one coming.”

A little over a year later, terrorists would attack the Pentagon and World Trade Center, sending the United States into both a war and a recession. Ed was right.